Apparently, the LaTeX distribution and its associated classes and drivers, as well as files in one's Linux distribution can all affect the page size that is ultimately used for the output of dvipdf, pdflatex, etc. Whether one converts a .tex file to .pdf directly or through an intermediate .dvi and/or .ps file can also affect the page size of the final document. I have encountered a number of sources on the web describing this problem and potential solutions (e.g., (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6)). There does not appear to be a standard solution.

My question is: how can I ensure that my document is being output to 'letter'-sized paper. Which parameters of which files affect the choice of paper size: document classes, device drivers, Linux-specific files, others? Which LaTeX packages influence the choice of paper size? Which parameters override other parameters if conflicting paper sizes are specified? Which parameters should be changed to alter the page size on a one-time basis? Which parameters should be changed to alter the default page size?


The best strategy is

  1. Choose the paper format you'll be using more frequently at install time (TeX Live allows to choose between Letter paper and A4, and probably also MiKTeX).

  2. For the documents where a different paper size is needed, write

    \documentclass[letterpaper]{article} % or whatever

    With this call, geometry will only do the required steps for announcing the desired paper format to the output driver.

The default paper size can be changed, in TeX Live, via tlmgr:

tlmgr paper letter
tlmgr paper a4

(with superuser privileges). The GUI front-ends to tlmgr also offer this command through one of the menus.

  • Thanks @egreg. For older TeX Live systems (e.g., 2009), is there a way to check the default paper? My installation did not involve any user input, so I never made a default paper size selection. – user001 Dec 30 '11 at 13:39
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    If you have a TeX Live/Ubuntu 2009, then the default paper size is set in some configuration file; sorry, I've no such system at hand, for the moment. You can try sudo texconfig paper letter (or a4, of course). – egreg Dec 30 '11 at 14:01
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    On my system (Ubuntu 14.04) texconfig returned: This command shouldn't be used on Debian. Please use 'paperconf' instead. The command I had to use was sudo paperconf letter. – jarvisschultz Dec 15 '15 at 15:50
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    On OSX system, this can be done using the GUI Tex Live Utility -> Configure -> Change Paper Size – William Zhang Jun 6 '16 at 9:23
  • tl-paper shows the paper defaults on an ubuntu 18.04 machine. – davejagoda Jun 13 '20 at 20:59

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